|By Dragon of The West||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Dragon of The West||Drama||PG - 13||None||None|
|The Wall, Part 4: Minos|
July 06, 2010
Tengu must deal with the consequences of his decisions...
Back on the war ship at Chameleon Bay, his fellow soldiers expressed Tengu their condolences for the loss of his friend. He accepted them with sincerity. He wanted to do the same for the General, so he headed for his quarters. He was stopped by the guards outside the door, but he could hear the loud sobbing inside anyhow.
Tengu returned to his bunk, still sore from fighting, recovering bodies, and finally, marching back to the boats. He went to bed and closed his eyes, and no sooner had he done it, he went to sleep. Once asleep, he kept having the same nightmare over and over again, where Lu Ten would sink into a hole in the ground and he was unable to save him. He would later turn to face Iroh, who would open his mouth and blast him with fire. The burns would almost cover his entire body, when a gust of wind would blow away the flames. He would turn to watch where the wind had come from, and he would see Lu Ming holding a dagger, which he finally used to slice his neck.
When he woke up, he was shivering, covered in a cold sweat from head to toe. He saw Gin standing over him with a worried look. He was not in his bunk, but rather in the infirmary, the doctor filling forms at the end of the room.
"How long...?" Tengu was unable to complete the sentence.
"Four days. Only this morning you were able to start holding your food."
Tengu felt ashamed and confused. He tried getting up, but the room started whirling around him. Gin had to hold him up so he wouldn't fall to the ground. After a few minutes, Tengu recovered some of his control and was able to stand up again.
"The General has been asking to see you. He wants to know how you're doing."
"I suppose that even now I'm doing better than him." Tengu inferred
"Tell me about it. I had to basically run the entire retreat operation myself." Gin said with quiet exasperation.
Only then he noticed Gin's stiff movements, and that he was robed, instead of wearing his uniform. Noticing Tengu's inquisitive stare, he undid the knot and revealed a bandaged torso.
"Three ribs. Doc here says it's going to be three months leave when I get home."
"I'll be sure to write down more if you don't stop moving around!" The doctor said, sounding quite upset, while Gin rolled his eyes.
"Where can I find the General?"
"I saw him playing his Tsungi Horn on his balcony just a while ago." Gin replied.
"Thanks, sir." Tengu saluted Gin and began walking out the door and into the dark hallway.
"Corporal..." Tengu turned around.
"You did all you could. We all did."
Tengu felt a knot in his throat. He nodded a small nod and resumed his walk.
Tengu watched silently as Iroh finished an old Fire Nation folk love song on his Tsungi Horn. His eyes were swollen and his face was wrapped in the unmistakable fabric that is sorrow. When Iroh finished his tune, he stared at the sea, the breeze blowing in his graying hair. Even sunset, which is usually golden and warm in Fire Nation waters, now seemed drab and gray. A long silence followed. At last, Iroh spoke:
"A two-year siege, the single biggest military campaign in over a hundred years of Fire Nation history: wasted. Everything just...thrown away on a whim!" Iroh chastised himself, perhaps in anticipation of whatever crudities were awaiting for him at the homeland.
"An only son is not a whim." replied Tengu.
"Over 200 sons of our Nation died in this siege. Did we stop then?? Nooo...!!! But he dies, just as willingly as every other soldier, and I give up Ba Sing Se for him! I betrayed both him and some 6,000 men who walked into the very fires of hell for me, for our Nation!"
Iroh's calm demeanor disappeared for one brief moment. He grimaced, as if ready to break into tears again. Tengu got closer and stood beside him. Apparently Tengu's company provided Iroh with a measure of comfort. His calm tone returned. "They need not trouble themselves, Corporal. I plan to retire from military service the minute I reach the Fire Nation Capital." Silence followed. "How are you feeling?"
"Better now, I guess, although I was pretty much out of it, altogether."
Iroh just nodded.
"Sir, I just wanted to..." Tengu found it hard to find words to fit the moment.
"Please come in, Corporal. Close the door behind you. Would you care for a some tea and a game of Pai Sho? For old times' sake..." Iroh interrupted.
Tengu nodded, happy to oblige. The General smiled and continued to walk inside the room. Suddenly, he turned around.
"I must thank you for what you did on the field. Being able to bring Lu Ten home means more to me than what you could imagine." The General's eyes looked intently into his.
"Sir, I just pushed a rock out of the way. I only wish I could have done more." In this, he was more sincere than he could ever hope the General to believe.
Iroh cleaned his Tsungi Horn and returned it to its case. As he moved, he talked. "You know, in officer school we are taught to avoid the boulders at all cost. The Fire Nation military has made extensive field experiments to gauge our enemy's destructive potential. From the information we have, I can estimate that the boulder that crushed Lu Ten probably weighed around half a ton." He turned around to face Tengu. "No other man in this entire army could have moved that rock."
Tengu felt ashamed. He had never mentioned his earthbending before, but the General was a perceptive man...
Iroh began walking towards his boudoir, where he had a small pot with some moon flowers. He watered the flowers lightly.
"So beautiful...they were Lu Ten's favorites. Do you enjoy gardening, Corporal?" Asked Iroh
Tengu was puzzled by the question, but he thought it would be rude to evade it, so he did his best. "I have never been in one place long enough to learn, nor have I ever owned enough land to do it on, Sir."
"That's truly a shame. I love plants. They are so graceful and balanced – not even the greatest work by the hands of men can compare to the work of nature."
Iroh sat down on his desk, and motioned for Tengu to sit down. He hesitated at first, since it was Lu Ten's place, but Iroh motioned as if it were alright. He continued his story:
"All I know about plants I learned from my old friend Cho. He was the groundskeeper at the Royal Family's vacation home in Ember Island. Cho was very knowledgeable about every kind of plant, not only ornamental, but also medicinal. He could brew any kind of tea to absolute perfection. Of course, no one else would care to speak to a lowly groundskeeper, but I discovered a hidden treasure, and seeing that no one else showed interest, I kept it to myself."
The teapot gave out its whistle, so Iroh got up and removed it from the fire, pouring two cups.
"Cho was a noble man: hardworking, honest and humble. Although I did my best to help from time to time, it still was hard for him to make ends meet and provide for his family. All of his life, his heaviest burden was trying to guide his two sons, especially the oldest one." Iroh took a sip of tea before continuing.
"At first, Little Cho enjoyed my visits, since I would drill him and Lu Ten in firebending. He really loved fighting and was quite good at it, almost as good as Lu Ten, although he didn't really have Lu Ten's discipline." He let the words linger, as if having the scene from his memory playing before his eyes. He sipped some more tea before resuming:
"Over the years though, he became distant both to me and to his father. You see, Little Cho had become impressed by the hoodlums who lived in his neighborhood. He liked their talk, their walk, their aura of manhood and danger... They became his role models. He didn't want to grow up to be anyone's servant, which is how he saw his father."
It had started to grow dark, so Iroh took a brief time out to light his stateroom's lamps.
"Little Cho – who was really not so little anymore - joined a gang and eventually became the leader. He then pulled his smaller brother Wang in with him. My friend Cho was heartbroken that his children had taken up a life of crime, and begged me to help him turn things around any way I could. I was already in active service, so I could not justify spending time at Ember Island, even to help a good old friend. But, then the special recruiting program came up, so I pulled some strings to have Little Cho picked up by the drafting team and brought close to me. That way I could hopefully keep him close to me and Lu Ten and somehow lead by example. Sadly, as both you and I know, the damage had been done."
Tengu was, in all honesty, still sick. Therefore, his mind was foggy and slow, but at this point the association was obvious enough that his fever-impaired mind could grasp it. This was Hong Se Iroh was talking about!
"I'm sorry General – I was not aware of your relation to Cho..."
Iroh chuckled. "I'm not sure it would have made any difference, Corporal. When Little Cho came to me, mourning his brother's death, he had pretty much made up his mind on revenge. I tried to persuade him to let go of his anger and use the opportunity to reflect on the lifestyle he had chosen and what consequences it had brought upon his brother. Useless words: his mind had been made up. He would find the killer, and he would have his revenge. However, there was no way I could have imagined that both Little Cho and his brother's killer would end up serving under my command together in Ba Sing Se."
Tengu began feeling genuinely sorry for what he had done, but his remorse was outweighed by his curiosity. If the General and Lu Ten had been so close to this family, then how come they stayed out of it? Why was it that the subject had been so carefully avoided?
Iroh sipped the last of his tea. He looked kind of sad that it was finished. He looked up at Tengu and said: "Pai Sho?"
Tengu was clearly not in the mood, but he sensed Iroh was up to something and he could not afford to have any more loose ends, so he nodded.
Iroh started picking up the tea utensils, while he motioned for Tengu to fetch the board. Even as they made preparations for their game, Iroh continued about Hong Se. Tengu listened attentively. "Cho's story of family murder and revenge is a very common one in Ember Island slums. Why, it is sadly common all over the world, really... What made it interesting is the fact that Cho called Wang's killer a 'bounty hunter'. I remember asking what made him say that, since I very much doubted Little Wang would amount to that much in the criminal underground."
Iroh finished putting away the silverware and fetched the stools, but never stopped his tale:
"He said that his gang brothers (as he called them) wrote to him describing how the killer, after having torn through them, was confronted and attacked by a local police patrol. He was doing well, but was quite outnumbered, so he was rescued by some mysterious characters, including a large earthbender which took them underground. The gangsters say that this earthbender is part of a large group of bounty hunters that work together, hidden somewhere in Ember Island. They believe the bounty hunters rescued Wang's killer from the police because he was one of them."
The Pai Sho table was finally set, so both sat down. Iroh motioned for Tengu to begin.
"It would be dishonorable for the younger contestant to begin the game," said Tengu.
Iroh smiled with his eyes. Among the discerning, Pai Sho was more than a game: much code was attached to its etiquette. The guest customarily had the first move. However, the guest could forfeit the first move whenever he felt he was being summoned to discuss other matters than just a friendly match.
Iroh placed a single lotus tile in the middle of the board. Its petals had been painted black. Tengu sprung to his feet.
"It was Ozai who sent you, wasn't it?"
"Who do you work for?"
"I am bound to secrecy with my life."
The silence that followed was thick and heavy.
For the first time in three years, his cover had been blown. Hong Se had, in fact, managed to expose him to none other than his primary target. He was no longer the shadow in the night, favored by the element of surprise. He was now but a young man, deep in hostile territory, bared and exposed in front of a fierce, legendary warrior. His chest was about to explode. Iroh was sitting in front of him at point blank range, yet deep inside him, he admired and respected him second only to his own father. His limbs froze into place, and his eyes could not carry the weight of the General's stare. They dropped to the floor.
Iroh stood and raised his right hand and pointed to his swords on the wall: "You may choose your weapon."
Tengu's stare stayed fixed on the metal floor. He began to feel dizzy again.
Iroh's voice was firm and resolute "I won't fight back. I have nothing left to fight for."
Tengu's knees began to buckle under his own weight. Once again, he felt himself lose control of his limbs and about to fall to the ground. Iroh sprung forward, grabbed his robe and sat him on his stool.
Tengu was sweating bullets. He was angry, confused, trying to gather his self-control. Iroh knew this was a critical moment so he tightened his grip on Tengu, who was trying in vain to free himself. He grabbed a pitcher with ice water and poured it on the young man. Tengu let out a shout, as a jolt of pain shot through his body.
"Listen to me son: your sickness is not physical. I know this because I have experienced this myself. I was expected to kill someone once too, and I had every intention to, but I didn't. I was too touched and inspired by them to betray them so. I lied to everyone in order to protect them. I though it would be of no consequence, but when I returned home, I was sick for a week. Not even the palace doctor could find a root to my symptoms."
The words, the lights, the Pai Sho board, Iroh's fierce hazel eyes, all twirled furiously around Tengu in a rabid whirlwind of consciousness. Iroh shook the boy once again, forcing his words through to him.
"That crucial decision I made that day went against everything I knew, everything I had cared about, everything I was supposed or expected to be, and it changed me forever. It was not until years later that I understood that the turmoil in my spirit was so great that its excess energy flowed into my body causing the unbalance that manifested itself as a sickness."
Tengu's eyes were filled with rage: He was angry at himself for not completing his job. He was angry that this man had found a soft side. What kind of spell had this man put on him? What was the matter with him? He forced himself to stand up and tried to grab Iroh's neck. Iroh blocked his hand and slapped his face. The shock made Tengu inhale deeply, and a sudden burst of clarity took hold of his mind. He saw Iroh crying:
"You had orders to kill me, and I'm sure you must have had orders to kill Lu Ten, but I saw you save him! I saw you save his life from the damned Earthbenders!" Iroh growled in the lowest voice he could, while keeping a vice grip on Tengu's robe, who flailed like a willow in the breeze. "Boy, listen to a stubborn old fool who has just lost everything he ever cared for: there is good in you! You need to fight to save yourself from those who would have you lose your soul! Don't give in!"
Everything turned black.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|My Own Savior Chapters|
|Colonial Childhood - The Tailor of Gaoling - Jailbird - Ember Island - The Contract - Corporal Lu Ten - General Iroh - The Wall, Part 1: Daedalus - The Wall, Part 2: Icarus - The Wall, Part 3: Apollo - The Wall, Part 4: Minos - The Lady Of Death - The Last Airbender - The Pursuit of Peace - Stengah - The Northern Air Temple, Part 1: Arrival - The Northern Air Temple, Part 2: Rebirth - Pride - Prejudice - Freedom|